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Every Step of the Way

Posted on September 7, 2016 in Cardiology

Graham survives, thrives with FSRMC

The description of the pain is graphic. “It felt like somebody was just ripping the flesh right off of the bone,” Mark Graham says. “The pain put me on my knees.”

Mark, 52, walked through the doors of the emergency department at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center on Sept. 11, 2015. Quick diagnosis revealed he had an aortic dissection, a somewhat rare heart condition in which the inner layer of the aorta tears, causing a surge of blood that separates the inner and middle layers of the aorta.

It can be fatal, but Mark didn’t know that when he was struggling with intermittent pain a year ago. All he knew was that he didn’t feel well, the pain went from an ache in his back and jaw to a ripping sensation in his chest, and it was an inconvenience on a busy Friday.

“I was just thinking ‘I’ve got things to do, and whatever this is I need to get it over with,’” Mark says. “The EKG didn’t show anything,” his wife, Tracy Graham, says, “so I was relieved, and thinking it must be his gallbladder.” 

But next there was a CT scan, and the results prompted an instant whirlwind of activity. “I stepped out for a minute, and by the time I came back, there were people coming from everywhere,” Tracy says.

When Mark heard surgery was needed for an aortic dissection, he still didn’t understand how critical it was. “I’m thinking, Monday and Tuesday are busy, but Thursday’s good,” Mark says.
He quickly learned that Thursday wasn’t an option. The surgery had to be performed immediately.

Life-saving surgery. Compassionate Care.

For Tracy, it was the start of a waiting game. She waited for news during surgery. After the surgery was successfully completed, she waited for updates on Mark’s recovery. When he was moved into the intensive care unit, she waited for him to be well enough to go home. “The staff and nurses were just awesome, they were so compassionate, and gave him such good care,” Tracy says.

In ICU for two weeks, Mark struggled to regain some strength and agility. The nurses got him on his feet, to cheer him on as they made him walk a little more each day. The nurses were determined to help Mark improve, but there was one problem. Mark didn’t want to walk. It was too hard.

“I would cry, I would lie, and I would beg,” Mark says, “but they wouldn’t take no for an answer.” The nurses’ persistence meant the difference between simply being discharged and being discharged to a good quality of life.

Through follow-up visits, a bout with pleurisy, and cardiac rehabilitation at Fort Sanders Regional, Mark and Tracy say they found the same level of professionalism, persistence, and compassion. It didn’t seem to matter if it was a person handling paperwork behind a desk, or a clinician administering care, they all worked together to restore his quality of life.

“And cardiac rehab was as much emotional encouragement as it was physical rehab,” Mark says. “The whole staff was just unbelievable.”

Mark appreciated the cardiac rehab so much that he decided to take advantage of an option to keep going for regular exercise after he had been discharged. It’s a comfort to know medical staff are on hand to offer help if he needs it, and there is support from other heart patients who understand.

“Every time we get the opportunity, we tell people how wonderful we think Fort Sanders Regional is,” Tracy says. “Because by the grace of God and the staff there, he’s here today.”

To learn more about the cardiology services of Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center, visit